Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A

Q&A with Hilary Liftin, author of MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER

A few days ago, I reviewed Hilary Liftin’s new novel, Movie Star By Lizzie Pepper. Hilary was gracious enough to answer some questions I had for her about writing the book.

mail_image_preview-180x180Q: How much of your affinity for writing can you attribute to your role as Features Editor of The Discus (our high school newspaper)?

HL: Well, all I can really say is that it was when working for The Discus that I first began to understand that nobody thinks I’m as funny as I think I am.

Q: I read that you knew nothing about writing fiction before Movie Star By Lizzie Pepper. How hard was it to develop the plot structure and the pacing of the novel without having done it before?

HL: I had never tried my hand at fiction, but I read enough (and was an English major, etc.) so at least I had a sense of what I wanted to achieve. Also, when I ghostwrite memoirs, I’m always thinking about the narrative structure and pacing–it’s just that I’m limited by the real stories and timeline of my clients’ lives. So in part I relished the freedoms of fiction–I could create a story to live up to my ideals. On the other hand, I had to create it. That was the part that was most new to me. I’m used to writing celebrity books on a tight deadline. I had to slow down and try to develop the skill of actually having ideas out of thin air. It’s a muscle I haven’t exercised much.

Q: You and I share a love of candy. What do you eat while you’re writing?

HL: I wrote most of this book at the charming chain restaurant, Le Pain Quotidien, where I could drink green tea refills punctuated with obscene helpings of their proprietary version of Nutella. Which is basically candy.

Q: Do you have a preference between writing fiction and non-fiction?

HL: The non-fiction books I do are more fun and in some way less challenging because, as I suggested above, the material is mostly handed to me. They are easier and I pretty much have endless energy for them. Fiction is more grueling for me, but having freedom and control — and being involved through publication — has been fun in a different way. I just don’t think I could ever be as prolific at fiction, but it’s been a very exciting shift.

Q: (spoiler ahead) I thought the saddest part of Movie Star By Lizzie Pepper was when Lizzie found Emil’s scripts in Rob’s office.  Did you base that element of the story on something you’d read elsewhere, or was that your creation?

HL: That element of the story has no basis in fact. In fact, I have to say that even though it’s one of my favorite parts of the book, the idea actually came from a friend of mine, Esta, who thought of it for me in a spin class. What a gift that was! As a professional collaborator, I have no shame in sharing the credit where it’s due! All writers should have friends like Esta. Or we should all spin.

Q: How do you think Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper would have been received if Tom Cruise had never married Katie Holmes? Do we as readers need to project this story onto real life people that we can picture or is a good story a good story regardless of its origin?

HL: If we weren’t fascinated with celebrity culture in general, I never would have written this book. It’s fiction–I don’t think we need to feel like this is or is meant to represent actual people–but so much of it is about fame, how it looks from the outside versus how it feels from the inside, that I think you have to have some level of curiosity about that notion to get drawn into the book.

Q: I love that Stevie Nicks is one of your dream ghostwriting clients. I think those rock stars approaching their 60s must have incredible stories to tell. (I decided I needed to write a book about a reuniting girls’ rock band after seeing the Go-Gos in concert last summer). Who else’s memoir would you like to pen?

HL: There are a few older stars whom I don’t think have done books–Barbra Streisand! Bruce Springsteen!–and of course there’s Caitlyn Jenner. I’m really open to anyone who has a story with interesting turns that have never been fully explained.

Q: Talk about your writing process. Lots of drafts? Or do you get it right the first time? How much did you cut out before the book was finished?

HL: I threw away chunks that weren’t working as I went–it’s hard to say how much, I don’t know, sixty pages? I’m also a big editor. I move and add whole chapters, paragraphs, sentences. Thank God for word processing. My husband, who is also a writer, did a very heavy edit over a three-day weekend that was supposed to be half-vacation but ended up being all work. And, finally, I love tightening prose, and I did that endless times with this book. I was finding things I wanted to fix up until the very end. I wrote very apologetic letters to my editor and did everything I could to persuade her that I was sane.

Q: Finally, when will you be in DC next and will you sign my book?

HL: I don’t know when I’m next coming to DC! But I’d be delighted to send you a signed copy.

SINGLE, CAREFREE, MELLOW by Katherine Heiny

Katherine Heiny’s Single, Carefree, Mellow is a collection of stories about women, most of whom are in the process of deceiving the men they love. They are cheating on spouses; they are longing for other men they aren’t with; they are in search of something different. These women aren’t bad people. They are human – funny, flawed, loving – and feeling constrained by the roles they have found themselves in. I really enjoyed this collection of stories. Heiny’s characters are anything but single, carefree and mellow; they are deeply entrenched in relationships, highly introspective, and emotionally intense. My favorite story is called “That Dance You Do” and is about a mother planning her son’s 8th birthday party. It’s just perfect. I laughed out loud many times reading that story, just as I did throughout the whole book.

Single, Carefree, Mellow came out this past week, and Heiny has been getting a lot of attention. She has a story of her own to tell: her first story was published twenty years ago, when she was 24. She sent it to 30 magazines, only to be rejected by all of them, and finally sent it to The New Yorker, who accepted it. That story – “How To Give the Wrong Impression”- is included in Single, Carefree, Mellow, and is about a young woman whose romantic love for her male roommate is unrequited. After the success of that story, Heiny got married, had kids, and didn’t publish anything for 20 years, until this collection came out.

I had the great pleasure of attending a Q&A at Politics & Prose tonight between Heiny and her editor, Jenny Jackson, from Knopf. (I knew I would like her – she has edited Jennifer Close, J. Courtney Sullivan, and Emily Mandel.)  It was a really interesting conversation, which I have tried to sum up here. Read this Q&A and I promise you will want to read the book.

Q: Tell me about the story “How To Give the Wrong Impression” and why there was such a long break after that one.

A: There was a girl in my building who told me about “the guy she lives with”. I asked her if he was her boyfriend or not, and the whole story unrolled from there like a rug. It’s as personal to me today as the day I wrote it. Of all of my protagonists, I am most like her.

After it was published, I wrote a lot of YA novels, then got met my husband, got married and had kids. That took everything out of me. I didn’t start writing again until my youngest was in first grade. Then the floodgates opened. I think the imagination is like a muscle – the more you write, the easier it gets.

Q. Most of your stories are about relationships and women chafing against marriage. Did you set out to write about love and infidelity?

A: Sex and relationships is what I like to read about, so it’s what I wanted to write about. In my collection, infidelity is really second to what I want to write about. The inspiration for the infidelity? My husband was a spy, a professional secret-keeper. I had to keep his job a secret and be careful about what I said. That colored my fiction.

Q: When women characters are unfaithful, there is often the opinion that they have to get their comeuppance and be punished for it. That is not the case here. Was that a conscious decision here, to buck convention?

A: No. I don’t like to write about the beginnings or ends of relationships. I don’t like to write about the day of reckoning. I would rather talk about the middle. I am interested in whether the infidelity will change the relationship or the people. I leave a lot up to the reader; I am not moralizing.

Q: Do you care if your readers dislike your characters?

A: I love my characters like I love my children. They are flawed but I love them anyway. I don’t care if my readers like the characters as long as they are enjoying the book.

Q: Let’s talk about the feminist aspect of the collection. These women are chafing against convention and are feeling circumscribed in their lives. A lot of the drama here happens in the kitchen, in the car, in the dining room. What drew you to the domestic sphere?

A: I am not a person who could write an international thriller – I don’t know much about politics or foreign policy. I get my news from Facebook. When you have kids, you enter a parallel universe of naps, playdates and logistics – a domestic microcosm. That’s where I see things happening.

Q: Maya appears in three of your stories. Why? Could you write a novel about her?

A: The Maya/Rhodes stories were hard to write because I like Rhodes so much. He deserves better than Maya. But things would happen to me and I’d see them happening to Maya. I don’t think I could do a whole novel about her because I feel such solidarity with Rhodes.

Q: “How To Give The Wrong Impression” was written 20 years ago, but it still holds up. Why do you think that’s true?

A: Unrequited love is always relatable. It is as old as jealousy.

Q: The story “That Dance You Do” is about a particularly horrible experience at a kid’s birthday party? Was this true to life? Is that your most autobiographical story?

A: This story was based on my son’s 8th birthday party. But it’s so boring to say that this is my most autobiographical story. There are a lot of true things throughout the book. I often put something true into a different context within the narrative.

Q: Short stories used to get a bad rap. Publishers were reluctant to put a lot of muscle behind them. Now, there is a real spark behind short stories. Why do you like writing stories?

A: To me, writing a novel is like being at a horrible monthlong family reunion. There is no escape, and you’re surrounded by the same people all the time. Writing a short story is like stopping at a bar and having one drink. You can minimize the damage.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise about being published?

A: It’s so fun! I was worried that I would lose the personal responses I got when I wrote short stories, but that hasn’t been the case. It has been wonderful.

Q: Tell us about the novel you are working on.

A: It is very different from my story collection. The narrator is a man, and he is married to an over-the-top extrovert. Is that type of person, who is fun and exciting to be with but doesn’t stop talking, a good choice for a life partner?

 

Q&A with Jane Smiley, SOME LUCK

I attended a Q&A with Jane Smiley at Politics & Prose earlier this fall, and since I just reviewed her new book Some Luck, I thought I’d post the Q&A now.

Smiley calls Some Luck an “old person’s way of writing a novel” – with the years progressing evenly, as “happy and tragic events came and went”.

Q: A lot has happened since you started writing. Has it affected your writing or could you have written the same book 20 years ago?

A: I think so. I came up with this idea 5 years ago, decided on a setting, settled on Walter and Rosanna, gave the kids personalities, and set them on their way. The book is mostly made up of history and gossip.

Q: A lot of your books have an agricultural motif. Have you lived on a farm?

A: No, but I lived in Ames – what’s the difference? I moved to Iowa City at age 22. I was interested in farming, the ecology of farming in our lifetime. If I had gone to UVA, I would have gone down another path.

Q: You used to teach. When you taught, did it affect your writing, and did your writing affect your teaching?

A: Yes. Once I was writing a story, and teaching undergrads, and I was giving tips for storywriting and in the process came up with how to move on in the story.

Q: Do you write thinking about how the book will sound out loud? Do you ever wish you’d changed a word?

A: Yes, in fact I did tonight during my reading.

Q: A Thousand Acres had King Lear as its background. Did anything inspire Some Luck?

A: No, I just wanted to fill this title: A Hundred Years. This was much more free form. I knew where I was headed. I knew Frank would go to war and the farm would change and someone would stay on the farm. It had boundaries, but not structure like King Lear.

Q: Some Luck is the first of a trilogy. Are the other two books finished?

A: Yes. I need to fiddle with the last 5 years.

Q: Which books influenced you as a girl? Little House on the Prairie?

A: That series was read to me as a kid. The books that had the most influence on me were the ones I read as a 13-14 year old: Giants in the Earth, David Copperfield, The Web of Life.

Here is a video of the reading.

A Q&A About Reading

I was recently asked to answer a bunch of questions about my reading habits and recent books I’ve read. Since I am so behind on posts on the blog (that’s what happens when I pick up a 480 page book), I thought I’d post my answers here.

What book/books are on your nightstand right now? I have about 100 books on my nightstand. They are stacked in convoluted ways and jammed in. That is only one of many locations where I have TBR books – there are hundreds on shelves in my attic, three large stacks in my den, and a box of BEA 2014 books in my living room. The nightstand is supposedly where the TOP of the TBR list resides. Right now, in pole position, I have The Art of Fielding (reading now), Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe, and It’s A Mad World, which is a band-by-band, song-by-song exploration of 80s new wave music.

What is the last truly great book you read? Truly great? Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill and The Blessings by Elise Juska.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Loved to read. I had a wider range then than I do now – more fantasy, historical fiction. Now I am a stubborn realist.

If you had to name one book who made you what you are today, what book would it be? I don’t think any one book has made me who I am today. I am the cumulative result of lots of reading.

What is the last book you put down without finishing? Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whitmore. I’ve picked up a lot of books and put them back down lately, but this was the last one I actually read any real part of and then put down.

What book did you feel you were supposed to like but you didn’t? Little Bee. Awful.

Who would you choose to write your life story? Carol Shields (sadly no longer alive) or Curtis Sittenfeld.

You are hosting a literary dinner party – what three writers would you invite? Lionel Shriver, Ian McEwan and Jennifer Haigh.

What do you plan to read next? The Witch of Blackbird Pond, for my Mother-Daughter Book Club.

What are you listening to these days – in the car/ at work/ at home? Audiobooks!! Right now Some Luck by Jane Smiley.

What are you watching these days on TV/DVD/streaming? Just started a new miniseries last night called The Missing. It was so painful that I found it physically hard to watch. But really well-acted. And The Comeback is back – YAY!

Who do you love to follow on Twitter/FB? Social media people and book bloggers.

More reviews soon, I promise!

June is Audiobook Month: Q&A with Narrator Tavia Gilbert

taviagilbertI met Tavia Gilbert last fall, when I participated in an online panel discussion about audiobook narrators and social media. She is a narrator extraordinaire, with 150+ narrations under her belt, and is a genuinely kind and funny person too. (Read more about Tavia here.)

I was lucky to be seated next to Tavia at the BEA audiobook narrator lunch in New York last month, and she graciously agreed to answer my Q&A about narration in honor of June is Audiobook Month. (This is my third in a series of three interviews with narrators.)

Q. How did you get into audiobook narration?

A: I was a listener before I was a voice actor. And I was an acting student before I was a listener. I had a long drive from Seattle, where I was in college studying theater, to visit my family in Idaho, and I thought, I guess I’ll get a book on tape for the drive. I went to my local library and checked out a novel written by Joanna Trollope, gorgeously narrated by Davina Porter, put the first cassette into the tape player of my Dodge Neon, and set out on I5. Davina was the perfect narrator to introduce me to the art-form of narration. How lucky I was! She is a masterful storyteller — delicate, strong, nuanced, precise, conversational, heart-felt, intelligent, articulate, and well-read (and these qualities show up in one’s voice and performances, absolutely). I admire her greatly. At the time, I thought, “I want to do that! I want to DO that!!” It took another seven years or so, but one acting degree, lots of work on stage and on camera, a tremendous amount of practice, a lot of classes and coaching, and a huge amount of passion and ambition later, I got my first contract. I’ve been working steadily ever since.

Q: How do you prepare for a new narration role? Do you read the whole book through to get a sense of the characters and story?

A: I read the text and get a feel for the tone, pace, rhythm, and feel of the project. I learn about the writer — who they are, what they care about, why they wrote the book. I highlight my scripts (which are all on my iPad — I don’t use paper scripts any longer) with different colors to call my attention later to points that will influence my character choices — blue for specific vocal characterization notes, like dialects or voice qualities (i.e., rough, raspy, squeaky, etc.); orange for character background (like physical description or description of the character’s personality or internal life, etc.). I mark in red every word I need to look up or ask the author to pronounce, so that I am voicing everything correctly. I mark in green every bit of information the author has provided that gives me specific performance direction (i.e., “he whispered,” “she called over her shoulder,” “he slurred, drunkenly,” etc.). Then, after researching all my vocabulary, I’m ready to record.

Q: What is your favorite book that you’ve recorded? Any books on your dream list?

A: I have many, many projects that I’ve absolutely loved recording, from science fiction to memoir to literary fiction to young adult to theology. But my latest favorite book is The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, by Jessica Lawson, for Dreamscape. It’s a young adult novel featuring the character from Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. But in The Actual and Truthful Adventures, 11-year-old Becky takes center stage, and she proves herself to be smart, funny, brave, loyal, fierce, sensitive, and absolutely wonderful. If I had a daughter, I think I’d like a girl just like her, so it’s going to be great fun voicing her adventures. My birthday is this month, so perhaps I’ll begin recording her story on the actual day, which would be a very fine birthday present, indeed!

And on my dream list? I’d love to record more in the Linda Barnes Carlotta Carlyle series, because the series is fantastic and I adore Carlotta, and Little Women, the Little House on the Prairie series, and Anne of Green Gables, because they meant so much to me as a child.

Q: Where do you do your recording?

Much of the time I’m working in my studio in my Brooklyn apartment, but occasionally I’ll work in a recording studio in Manhattan, depending on the project. My booth is a double-insulated WhisperRoom in an office on the second floor of a brownstone. It’s awfully hot in the summer, but I’ve heard that one of the biggest contributors to job satisfaction is a short commute. At no more than ten seconds between the living room and my studio, my commute cannot be beat. (It doesn’t leave me a lot of travel time for audiobook listening, however. I have to wait until I do housework or jump on my bike to put in my earbuds.)

Q: What is your favorite genre for narrating?

A: Whatever is beautifully written makes me very, very happy, but if I was forced to choose a favorite, I think a fantastically written mystery can’t be beat. I don’t get enough of it, and I’m always really excited when a great mystery comes my way. I really enjoy tough, wise, female leads and wonderful supporting characters; compelling suspense; and surprising twists and turns. I also really love narrating literary fiction, memoir, and children’s and young adult work. See!? I can’t choose! If the writer is skilled and compassionate and thoughtful, has a clear vision and voice, and tells a great story, how could I ever possibly choose?

Q: How much interaction, if any, do you have with the author while you’re recording?

A: More often than not, I connect with the writer to some degree. With some I may just exchange a quick Facebook message. With some I may have a phone call. With some writers I’ll sit down over lunch and a glass of wine and then we’ll email and call and text and become lifelong friends. It’s been very surprising and very meaningful to have developed a few close friendships with writers whose books I’ve narrated.

Q: What do you like to read in your spare time?

A: Spare time? What spare time? I kid… kind of. I really have so much to read all the time, so many books to prep and record, that it’s very difficult to get in any reading solely for pleasure or personal enrichment. But I can get it in in fits and starts, or by listening to an audiobook during housework or while I’m exercising. Almost everything I read for myself is non-fiction, mostly memoir, though I do sometimes read literary fiction. On audio I listen to whatever my favorite narrators are performing, whether that’s contemporary fiction, a classic, philosophy, or memoir.

Q: Anything else you would like my readers to know about audiobooks?

A: I suppose I’ll take this opportunity to ask that no one ever ask a narrator again, “Do you also act?” Audiobook narrators are acting every time they sit behind the mic. The art-form of narration is specialized acting performance. Just as we would if we were in a play or a film, we’re developing character, playing our objectives, making specific acting choices to bring the text to life. We are voice actors, and if you listen to an audiobook, you’re listening to an actor perform just for you! How awesome is that?

Thank you, Tavia!

Q&A With Audiobook Narrator Patrick Lawlor

Patrick-LawlorI have had the pleasure of meeting audiobook narrator Patrick Lawlor twice, at BEA 2013 and 2014. He’s an incredibly friendly, interesting guy who has recorded over 300 audiobooks in just about every genre. He has been an Audie Finalist 3 times, and has received several AudioFile Earphones Awards. He has won one Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Award, Numerous Library Journal and Kirkus Starred Audio Reviews, Multiple Editors Pick, Top 10 and Year’s Best Lists.

Patrick has helped fuel my obsession with audiobook narrators by answering my questions here on EDIWTB as part of June is Audiobook Month. Thanks, Patrick! You can follow Patrick on Facebook here.

Q: How did you get into audiobook narration?

A: I started out as an actor, primarily on stage. Actually, my MFA is in Classical Acting, primarily Shakespeare. I have done all I can to make a living as an actor, and part of that has been expanding my definition of what it means to be a working actor. Subsequently, over the years, I have done stage, film, television, radio plays, theme parks, renaissance faires, murder mystery weekends, corporate training projects, industrial films. I’ve been an actor, director, stuntman, fight choreographer, teacher, tour guide, dancer, pub singer, bad mime, and yes, waiter, bartender and LOTS of file clerk gigs.

I was very lucky to get into audiobooks at a time when there were a lot less people trying to do this for a living. The Audio Publishers’ Association held a yearly job market, which was, in essence, a chance for prospective narrators to audition for a bunch of publishers at once, and then have several opportunities to socialize with them and start to get to know them. I was able to make several lasting relationships and got my first gig halfway through the day! I did 5 books my first year, 9 my second year, and about 12 my third. Since then, I average between 25 and 30 books a year. This has become my full-time job and I couldn’t be happier about it. I still do theatre when I can, but mainly I record. I have a studio in my home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and these days, record most of my work there, though I still travel to studios all over the country.

Q: How do you prepare for a new narration role? Do you read the whole book through to get a sense of the characters and story?

A: As far as my preparation is concerned, I have a fairly flexible routine. Each book is unique and presents unique challenges. Some have a lot of technical, foreign or invented words that need pronunciations. Some need a lot of character voices and/or accents or dialects. Sometimes I have to learn a whole way of talking, for instance if I’m reading military nonfiction, business books  or any number of things I don’t personally know about. Nothing is worse than listening to an authority who obviously doesn’t really know what he’s talking about! Generally, though, I always read the book (well, almost always. Sometimes time prohibits a pre-read). I make a list of all words I don’t know how to say. You’d be surprised how many everyday words you think you know that you’ve never actually said aloud. I pay special attention to real people’s names, regional pronunciations, odd words and technical words and phrases. If possible, I talk to the author to get her/his take on pronunciations and anything else they might find important. If it is a nonfiction, I then start to record. I normally do not do any distinct voices for nonfiction, unless they are specifically called for or the person has a famous voice. If it is fiction, this is where the fun starts. Character work! I come up with voices, accents and dialects for every character in the book. I draw as much as possible from clues in the text – accent, stutter, quiet, fast talker, etc. Once this is done, I hit the studio!

Q: What is your favorite genre for narrating?

A: Honestly, I love all genres. I really like the diversity of the material I get to read. If I had to pick a favorite genre, though, I’d have to say its a tie between Crime Thrillers and Young Audience books. Oh, and Dog Books! I LOVE Dog Books! And Romance. I’ve been doing a lot more of that lately and really enjoying it! Oh, heck! I like most of the stuff I read! Which is a good thing, because what I read for work is pretty much all I read. I don’t really get the opportunity to read much outside of what I’m recording, so I’m lucky I enjoy it! Mostly, when I do get the chance to look at outside stuff, it’s Runner’s World magazine, or stuff like the Harry Potter books. (Which should tell you how long its been since I read as a leisure activity!) My 13 year old niece is after me to read the Divergent books, so I foresee those will be next.

Q: How much interaction, if any, do you have with the author while you’re recording?

A: I really value interaction with the authors whose work I record. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do it enough. Whenever I do, I get fantastic insight into the work, and am able to craft my work to better serve what they have done. I feel that, with very few exceptions, narrators and authors should do everything they can to develop a working relationship. It only helps the work. This is especially true when dealing with a series. I have one author that I have worked with now for 10 years, recording over 20 books. Her name is Suzanne Brockmann and she writes mainly Romance. But FUN, action-adventure, Navy SEAL, high-octane Romance. Lots of humor, action and really good writing. They are the most fun books I do. I look forward to working on them. Generally, I read them with a female partner, as Suz writes in a deep POV style that lends itself to dual reads. I have had great partners in these reads, mainly Melanie Ewbank, but also Renee Raudman and one book with Angela Dawe! With that kind of talent, really, all I have to do is show up! Suz and I hit it off right away, and over the years we have gotten to the point where we are in each others’ heads. I know what she is going to say as I’m reading, and she knows how I’m going to sound as she’s writing! Mel and Renee and I have bonded with Suz in a way that is remarkable and fairly rare. It has gotten to the point where she knows us and writes characters specifically for us to read.  We have developed a shorthand that makes our jobs much easier. There is always a real team feel when we do a Suzanne Brockmann book. In addition, Suz and I have gotten to be friends, though I just met her face-to-face for the first time last month in New York. Our relationship allows us to cut to the chase when we’re working. I like to think we both do better work because of it. I know it’s more fun!

Q: Anything else you would like my readers to know about you?

A: What else can I tell you about myself? I have won 4 Audiofile Earphones Awards and a Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Award. I have been an Audie Award Finalist 3 times. I have several starred reviews from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. I have been featured in numerous Best Of, Year’s Best, Editor’s choice, Fan Favorite and other similar lists. I am the only working male audiobook narrator in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (There ARE two female narrators, but one of them lives in a suburb, and the other does mostly theatre). I’m happily married to the very talented filmmaker, Karen Erbach (check out the Girl Scouts of America’s 100th Anniversary commercial, To Get Her There. It still airs all over the country! I’m a huge fan!) We have a fantastic 4 year-old American Staffordshire (Pittie) Mix named Charlie, who is, quite possibly, the best dog in the world, and we foster a 1 year old Boxer/Pit mix named Billy who is… stinking cute and trying really hard to be a good dog. To relax in our spare time, we run marathons.

Q&A With Audiobook Narrator Therese Plummer

Last week, I was in NY for BEA 2014. One of my favorite parts of BEA is the annual audiobook narrator-blogger lunch. Last year was my first one, and I was very excited to go again this year. It’s an amazing opportunity to sit down with a bunch of very talented narrators and talk to them about the process of bringing a book to life via audio. I was in heaven.

Therese

Therese Plummer (r) and me (l) at the narrator/blogger lunch at BEA 2014

I met a number of new narrators this year and also got to catch up with some friends who I met last year. At one point, I told Tavia Gilbert (who will be interviewed on EDIWTB later this month) that I had written a Top 10 Best Audiobooks post last June for June is Audiobook Month (JIAM). I read her the list of audiobooks, and she told me that one of the narrators – Therese Plummer, who narrated Faith by Jennifer Haigh – was sitting down at the other end of the table. I totally geeked out and had to go down to meet Therese in person. We hit it off instantly and bonded over our love of Jennifer Haigh. A week later, we’re connected on social media and she has answered a Q&A on EDIWTB.

So here is the Q&A with Therese, who is a FANTASTIC narrator. You can really get a sense of why she loves what she does, and why she’s so good at it. There is a lot of dedication there to making an emotional connection with the material and being faithful to the author’s story. I will definitely be seeking out more of Therese’s work.

Q: How did you get into audiobook narration?

A; I took a class with Robin Miles about 8-9 years ago and auditioned for something with BBC at what was then Talking Books in midtown Manhattan. Mike Charzuk, Executive Producer at Audible, Inc., heard my audition and called me at my day job. I was working as an assistant in a financial firm to pay my bills while auditioning and trying to make it as an actress. Mike mentioned hearing my audition and wanted to know if I was willing to come in and audition for him as a narrator? I had no idea who Audible was or what he was asking me but I said yes of course I will come and audition. I read and landed two contracts with Audible. I took a week’s vacation from my day job and that week I worked every day recording my first Audiobook, Susan Mallery’s “Delicious.” At night I was rehearsing for an off-off Broadway show. I was in heaven and knew this what was I was supposed to be doing. Working as an actress! The day I returned to my day job my boss called me into his office and said they had to let me go as there was not enough work to justify my position. 5pm that same day Mike called me and asked if I was available to start narrating earlier as his other narrator could not finish her contract due to pregnancy. I said, “Yes that should work out just fine, thank you so much!” Since then I have been so blessed to work for so many amazing publishers around NYC.

Q: How do you prepare for a new narration role? Do you read the whole book through to get a sense of the characters and story?

I absolutely do. I have to. I read the entire story and I learn about my characters and arcs and tones and moods and flow of the story. I go back and underline in different colors my characters so my brain registers once I am in the booth whose voice is coming up. I record off of an iPad these days and I use a program called iAnnotate that is a godsend in prepping my stories. The author tells me everything I need to know. I do not have to reinvent anything. My job is to honor the text and bring his/her words to life through my acting. It is such a gift to do this.

Q: What is your favorite book that you’ve recorded? Any books on your dream list?

A: My favorite book I recorded to date was Faith by Jennifer Haigh. I am not sure if it was because I grew up Irish Catholic and found the entire story so completely fascinating but I was able to connect to Jennifer’s characters in such an intimate way that I felt like I was in the living room telling this story to my sisters. It felt like family. She is a superb storyteller and my job felt so easy as she gave me such descriptive and palpable characters that to bring them to life was a joy for me. I told my producer, Paula Parker, the last day of recording that I didn’t want it to end. It is my Mom and Dad’s favorite audiobook to date. That makes me happy!

I’ve always wanted to record To Kill a Mockingbird or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Q. Where do you do your recording?

A: When I am working for Audible I travel to Newark, NJ to record in their booths. I record in NYC for Recorded Books, Harper, Penguin and Hachette.

Q: What is your favorite genre for narrating?

I actually LOVE YA books! Julie Kagawa’s vampire series that I have been so lucky to narrate rocks my world with every book. I don’t know if it’s because I am emotionally 16 on a good day or what but I love those characters and stories so much! I also love Literary Fiction. Besides Faith my other favorites have been Return To Me by Justina Chen, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Want Not by Jonathan Miles and The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. And I will admit I adore recording Romance. I have been working on a series for Robyn Carr for the last five years. I was lucky enough to do her Virgin River and Thunder Point series and I literally built this town in Northern California with each book adding more and more characters until I literally felt like they were my family.

Amazing!

Q: How much interaction, if any, do you have with the author while you’re recording?

I have adopted Robyn Carr as a second Mom and she has accepted. She and I were able to do an event together at the Mid-Winter Library Conference in Seattle for Recorded Books and it was amazing. I could sit and talk with her for days. She is literally the sweetest, nicest and funniest woman I have ever met. Recording Justina Chen’s Return To Me was another incredible experience for me. She was able to call us with input during the recording and was just so excitedI was narrating all I wanted to do when the book was over was give her a hug. The story was incredible. I realized she was in Seattle and I reached out to her the weekend I attended the conference with Robyn Carr asking her if she wanted to get tea. She said I am going to throw my book release party the weekend you are in town and would you be my guest of honor and read a section of the book? Well after getting off the floor I shrieked “Yes of course!”. The book party was hosted in a bookstore and was packed with all of the people she had based the characters in her book off of. As I realized this I became very emotional. I said to her and the audience when I was finished reading, “Thank you for allowing me such an intimate seat on your life story. I realize at this moment why what we do as writers and narrators is so powerful.” That day shifted something in me about the work I do on such a fundamental level. What a gift it is to tell people’s stories and be a part of their healing journeys. I felt connected to the human race in such a deep way.

I will reach out to authors especially when working on their book has changed me in some way. I sent Jennifer Haigh and Jonathan Miles emails thanking them for choosing me to record their books and shared with them what the experience was like for me. They were both very grateful and gracious.

Q: What do you like to read in your spare time?

Ha! The joke is that I have started seven different books five years ago and can’t finish any of them because of needing to prep my Audio books. But on my nightstand right now is Her by Christa Parravani. I read a few pages before bed each night.

Q: Anything else you would like my readers to know about audiobooks?

I always heard my mom talk about audiobooks and how amazing they were and I was like yeah yeah just read the book! Little did I know how transformative a story can become with the right voice narrating it. I like to think I am able to bring some joy to someone listening to my narration. That service is why I do what I do but also because there are so many great stories to be told. It is the oldest form of entertainment and I am blessed and lucky to do it almost every day.